In Senegal, there are territories that stand out from the others. The kingdom of Oussouye is one of them. Directed by His Majesty Sibilumbay Diédhiou for 22 years, this land nestled in the south-east of Casamance, called Bubajum Ayi by the natives, still retains its ancestral social organization. Immersion in this kingdom of Kassa which extends over twenty villages and vigorously managed according to the foundations of traditional religion which have nothing to envy to modern States.
At the entrance to the town of Oussouye, about ten kilometers after the Niambalang bridge which separates the department of Ziguinchor and Kassa, a sacred forest of cheese makers and other large species, intertwined with Saba senegalensis called “maad” and climbing herbaceous plants, welcomes the visitor. In the middle of it, is the palace of his majesty Sibilumbay Diédhiou called “Maan in Huluf country” (geographical entity of the department of Ous souye). In this place, where Maan (the king) and his court take care of the natural character of the environment, only plastic chairs (for the guests) and a hard fence wall are foreign to the ancestral character of what can be called living room reception of the palace. It is here that his majesty receives, access to other parts of the palace being forbidden to the uninitiated (with some exceptions). It is also from this royal palace that his majesty reigns over an important geographical entity of the department of Oussouye called Bubajum Ayi or kingdom of Usuy (Oussouye). This kingdom has seen a succession of 16 kings before the enthronement of the current master of the place. If one of the king’s spokespersons does not know the exact date of its creation, Souleymane Diédhiou informs that the kingdom has existed for more than 6 centuries. He is related to those of Essukudiak and Karoukhaye, in Guinea Bissau, with whom he practices the same habits and customs. The kingdom of Oussouye is not a hereditary monarchy. The succession to the throne does not happen in the same family, even less in the same village. Although being princes, the children of the current occupant of the throne will never be kings. In the Bubajum Ayi, the crown is rotating and 5 families from two villages of the kingdom take turns. They are two Diédhiou families and a Diabone family in the village of Oussouye, and the Sambou and Diatta families in the village of Kahinda.
SIBILUMBAY DIÉDHIOU, THE SUPREME GUIDE
Enthroned on January 17, 2000, after decades of vacancy of the throne, following the death of his predecessor Sibakouyane Diabone, Sibilumbay Diédhiou (Olivier, of his first name before the enthronement) reigns over a geographical territory of 17 villages of the department of Oussouye that are Niambalang, Karounate, Siganar, Edioungou, Djivente, Kahinda, Senghalène, Oussouye-village, Oukout, Emaye, Boukitingho, Diantène, Diakène-diola, Essaout, Kagnout, Samatite and Eloudia (Loudia-Diola). Maan, as his constituents call him, also has more or less authority in Niomoune and Hitou, two island villages in the department of Bignona. He is the traditional chief, but also the religious and spiritual guide of the whole kingdom, also called “Bubajum Ayi”, in the Diola language, which means property of the king. According to the kingdom’s traditional “constitution”, Maan Sibiloumbaye Diédhiou is the guarantor of peace and social cohesion throughout the conglomerate. He watches over the food security of his subjects. In the event of a conflict, he reconciles the parties through consultation. The king defines the religious calendar of the kingdom, in collaboration with the priests who manage the other fetishes of the Bubajum Ayi. Its influence is limited within the perimeter of the kingdom. He is also forbidden to eat or drink outside the territory he controls. The sacred nature of this ban caused King Sihalébé Diatta to die of starvation, after being deported for opposing the cultivation of groundnuts and French domination.
A TRADITIONAL RELIGION THAT STILL RESISTS
The department of Oussouye is one of the regions of Casamance which resisted the forced penetration of so-called revealed religions. People who converted voluntarily embraced Islam and Christianity. But the traditional religion is still dominant in the Kassa. It is even more so in the kingdom of Usuy. In the Bubajum Ayi (kingdom), religious syncretism is the formula found to transcend issues related to religion. There are certainly Christians and Muslims, even in the king’s family, but the social organization is dictated by traditional religion. The king is responsible for the unifying fetish. He is therefore invested with divine power. “Contrary to what some would have you believe, the traditional religion practiced in Oussouye is monotheistic. The people believe in a single god called Atémit, which means master of the heavens, creator of the earth and of human beings,” said the late François Pompidou Diédhiou, uncle of His Majesty Sibilumbay Diédhiou. The fetish, he informed, is a place of prayer and contemplation where one speaks directly to God through the spirits. According to him, the diolas are not animists and they do not worship objects, but the offerings and the wine poured into the wood are collected by the spirits who are responsible for interceding with god. As in the revealed religions, the Bubajum Ayi celebrates baptisms, marriages and funerals according to the recommendations of the traditional religion.
SOCIAL, A PRIESTHOOD FOR THE KING
The city of Oussouye has never known the phenomenon of begging. It still resists this widespread practice in most of the departmental capitals of Senegal. A feat, certainly drawn from the pride of the Diola who does not like to reach out, but encouraged by the social policy of the various kings who have succeeded to the throne. Indeed, the kingdom of Oussouye has an attic in which tons of rice are stored. This commodity produced in the king’s fields is used to help, in total discretion, families in need. In this kingdom where rice is the basic cereal, there is an organization that can be likened to a “Ministry of Agriculture”. This is headed by a member of the royal court who is supported in his tasks by delegates in all the 17 villages that make up the Bubajum Ayi (kingdom). “The person in charge of the agricultural component is in charge of coordinating all the agricultural activities in the rice fields of the king. Together with his collaborators, they plan the dates so that the villages do, in turn, the field work, from cultivation to harvest, “explains Ismaïlia Ngoty Diédhiou, member of the family of His Majesty Sibiloumbaye Diédhiou (current king). . “Each rainy season, the “minister of agriculture” sets the tempo for the citizens to take turns in the king’s rice fields. Men (all generations combined) plow first. Following them, the women transplant the rice. These are the same people who invest the fields a few months later for the harvest when the rice is maturing,” continues Mr. Diédhiou. It should nevertheless be noted that during these activities, menstruating women are exempted, since in the tradition of Bubajum Ayi, menstruation is likely to defile the lands of the king. After the harvest, the rice is stored in warehouses from which the food is distributed to the needy in the greatest discretion.
THE “SACRED WOOD” TO PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT
If there is a geographical area that still keeps its forest resources intact or almost intact, it is the Bubajum Ayi (conglomerate of 17 villages under the authority of the King of Oussouye). In Oussouye, the luxuriant forests, which make the charm of one of the most ecological departments of Senegal, are jealously preserved by the populations. “The nature protection reflex developed by the populations makes our work easier. This behavior vis-à-vis the environment, well anchored in Oussouye, is undoubtedly to be found in ancestral beliefs, “said the head of the Oussouye Waters and Forests Brigade, during a reforestation day. organized in the department. This hypothesis is confirmed by a member of the royal court of Oussouye. “The life of the Diola essentially depends on nature. We eat from nature. It is nature that heals us and it is nature that gives us a living environment conducive to our development. So why saw the tree on which we are sitting, ”says Philippe Diédhiou dit Filidié, one of the spokespersons for the kingdom of Oussouye. “In Oussouye, the forest is sacred since it shelters most of our fetishes. It is strictly forbidden to cut down trees without respecting certain rituals. The preservation of the environment is a duty for us. Our parents taught us that trees give us life. So if they disappear, we won’t be able to survive. That’s why you see them in every corner of Oussouye,” he continues. Philippe Diédhiou believes that the requirements stemming from ancestral beliefs have made it possible to preserve the environment in the kingdom. “I think that all the communities in Senegal must work in this direction, even if it is with different paradigms”, concludes Mr. Diédhiou.
DJIVENTE, LAND OF THE “MINISTRY OF JUSTICE”
From Oussouye where the royal palace is located, you have to travel about 2 kilometers on a laterite track which passes through Edioungou to reach the village of Djivente. It is in this hamlet where “Elonghay” is housed. This fetish, very famous in the kingdom, plays the role of traditional justice. This ancestral court, coming from Guinea Bissau, is under the exclusive responsibility of the Manga family. It has been installed in the kingdom for centuries to prevent blood crimes. The judge’s seat is now occupied by Kouyanoyo Manga who succeeded his big brother Koudiolibo. The “traditional magistrate” is responsible for presiding over all trials concerning blood crimes in the Boubajum Ayi. In the kingdom of Oussouye, it is strictly forbidden to kill. An unacknowledged crime inevitably leads to a series of misfortunes for the person who committed it, as long as he has not confessed it. Beyond the culprit, the curse can fall on his descendants. The latter is required to appear before traditional justice to publicly reconstruct the facts. Willful omission of any important detail of the crime invalidates his confession. This justice also applies to any person responsible for an accident (even involuntary), having caused loss of human life. To be freed from the mystical prison, the author of the crime must appear before the traditional judge, with potting soil or a pig, palm wine (bunuk). And it is only after confession that he will benefit from a purification session to be “amnesty”. In addition to crimes of blood, the fetish represses the refusal of paternity. Any individual who refuses a pregnancy of which he is the author exposes himself to a very delicate situation. People from the kingdom who are in military service or simply having taken part in any war must, after their service, return to the “Elounghay” for a purification session. “Blood is sacred among the Diolas. No one has the right to transgress the rules that protect human beings. This is known to everyone in the kingdom,” said Kouyanoyo Manga.